Concert review

Backstreet’s back in Israel and 15,000 fans want it that way

25 years later, boy band still selling out shows with a trip down memory lane to the golden age of manufactured 90s pop music

The Backstreet Boys performing in Rishon Lezion on April 22, 2018. (Courtesy: Orit Pnini)
The Backstreet Boys performing in Rishon Lezion on April 22, 2018. (Courtesy: Orit Pnini)

The Backstreet Boys did their best to turn back time and quit playing games with the 15,000-strong crowd at Rishon Lezion Live Park, crooning their biggest hits and a few newer songs over a carefully choreographed set list.

On Friday, the Backstreet Boys celebrated their 25th anniversary at a show in Dubai. The group formed on April 20, 1993 after producer Lou Perlman put an ad in an Orlando paper looking for singers to join a musical group.

A quarter of a century later, the power ballads and catchy tunes that provided the soundtrack for a specific strain of teenyboppers are still selling out concerts on world tours. The Backstreet Boys also have a residency in Las Vegas when they are not touring. The Israel show sold out in four days.

“I literally want to move here, we love coming to Israel,” Alexander James “AJ” McLean, the heavily-tattooed “bad boy” of the group said at the start of the evening. “You’ve got beautiful people, good food, and the ladies… I see you ladies.”

Peppering their interludes to the crowd with “mazal tovs!” and “l’chaims!” the group announced a new album – their ninth studio album – and a single that will be released in May. The group has sold over 130 million albums.

“We’re going to keep coming back here to Israel again and again and again,” said Kevin Richardson, noting that the group plans another world tour next year to accompany the new album.

The group didn’t neglect any of the favorites, including “I Want it That Way,” “As Long as You Love Me,” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” with a rousing encore of “Everybody” before a burst of silver confetti escorted them off the stage. They also peppered a few newer, less well-known songs in between the favorites, including “Incomplete” and “More Than That.”

After more than two decades of performing together, the choreography was still polished and precise during the Backstreet Boys show in Rishon Lezion on April 22, 2018. (courtesy Orit Pnini)

Each song in the hour and forty minute concert was carefully choreographed, checking off the boxes for a late 90s nostalgia concert: frequent costume changes, throwback videos, and dance moves that haven’t changed in 20 years.

“We’re taking you on a journey through 25 years of music,” said Brian Littrell, though it was clear that most of the fans would have been just as satisfied with an evening that focused on the 1997 to 2000 period when the Boys were churning out hits with a stable of writers and producers.

The band members have sometimes played instruments during recent tours but spent this concert singing and dancing to recorded background music. The dancing is still polished and precise, though they have toned down their choreography from the highly physical steps in their heyday. McLean has had knee surgery on both knees and has said the rest of the band is “feeling it a little more after the shows.”

The five members of popular nineties boy-band Backstreet Boys at the Tel Aviv beach, as they begin their five-day stay in Israel in 2015 (Courtesy Brian Littrell Instagram)

Despite the longevity of the group and the constant release of new albums every few years, the Backstreet Boys don’t seem to be gaining any new followers. Fans skewed almost exclusively towards women in their late 20s and 30s, who were teenagers when the music video “Everybody [Backstreet’s Back]” exploded onto the scene in 1997 and copycat boy bands such as ‘N Sync and 98 Degrees sprung up overnight.

The past 25 years have had their share of highs and lows. Bandmate Kevin Richardson left the group for a few years in the mid-2000s but later returned. Lou Perlman, who formed the Backstreet Boys and N Sync, bilked his friends and family, including the music groups, out of an estimated $300 million and went to prison for perpetrating a Ponzi scheme. He died in prison in 2016.

Ticketmaster Israel, the new majority owner in the Bluestone Group promotion company, brought the Backstreet Boys to Israel for both this concert and for their last concert in 2015.

The Backstreet Boys celebrated their 25th anniversary last week in Dubai, two days before performing in Rishon Lezion on April 22, 2018. (courtesy Orit Pnini)

The group was originally scheduled to perform during the summer of 2014 but the concerts were canceled due to the war in Gaza and rocket fire throughout the country. Before their rescheduled 2015 concert, the group spent time seeing the sites in Israel including climbing Masada, floating in the Dead Sea, and riding Segways in Tel Aviv.

But really, the specifics of the Rishon Lezion show were less important. It was more about taking two hours to remember what it was like being a prepubescent teenager, pimples and all, splayed out on the bed alone in your room listening to a Walkman with a CD that had a scratch on song six. Except that instead of being alone in your room, immersed in the indignities and dramas of being a teenager, you were surrounded by  thousands of other people pushing their cell phones in front of you and probably having exactly the same thoughts (like, wasn’t it nice to go to concerts before cell phones?).

Even after all these years, the Backstreet Boys pushed all the right buttons, from the throwback clips reminding how great 90s fashion really was to the quiet ballads that still stir the heart, two decades later. Throughout the night, the nostalgia was so thick you could almost touch it.

“I’ve learned some secrets being in a boy band all these years,” Nick Carter, the youngest of the group, now 38, said at the beginning of the night, wiping his face with a towel. “And one is that one of you guys is going to want this towel, full of Backstreet perspiration,” he said, as dozens of screaming fans in the front row beckoned for him to throw it.

“Yeah, that’s weird and awkward. Don’t you think, guys?” Carter asked after he tossed the towel to a beaming woman. “Isn’t that kinda weird and kinda awkward?”

Of course it is. But the vast majority of the fans started memorizing the words to these songs when they were teenagers or younger, and when they were kinda weird and kinda awkward themselves.

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